October 12, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
What Promise Are You Waiting for?
O God, through Your Son, the Man of Sorrows, You are acquainted with our grief. We pray for Your Church, especially in places of persecution and distress. When hope grows dim, kindle within us patience in prayer and persistence in the struggle for justice and peace. We ask this in the name of Jesus. Amen.
In 1865, shortly after the Civil war, the Pastor of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Boston, Massachusetts. was helping with a Christmas Eve service — — — in Bethlehem. He later wrote about his feelings as he went down the hill from Jerusalem into Bethlehem – riding a horse. He said, “I remember standing in the old church in Bethlehem, – close to the spot where Jesus was born.
The whole church was singing hour after hour splendid hymns of praise to God, it was as if I could hear angelic voices telling each other of the Wonderful Night of our dear Savior’s birth.”
Two years later, in 1867, this Pastor, Phillips Brooks, put his pen to paper and wrote a very special, and very biblical song that we often hear during the Christmas Season. He wrote these glorious words:
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
Those verses declare the heart of Christmas. It is a time of celebration, a time of salvation and a time of quiet contemplation.
We have been investing these early Autumn weeks worshiping God through the Old Testament prophet Micah, who lived about 700 years before Christmas. Micah’s book is a book of WORSHIP – even the prophet’s name suggests worship. The name “Micah” means, “WHO IS LIKE YAHWEH?”, and then every chapter in the book talks about how NOTHING or NO ONE compares to GOD! No one is like Him!
And we have been learning over and over again that this God who is worthy of our worship is a God of JUSTICE which authorizes His JUDGMENT and provides means for His GRACE.
So with that backdrop in place, let’s look at the fifth chapter of Micah, & see what it says about a promise God’s people had been waiting for. Listen to God’s Word from Micah 5:1-15…. —-
1 Marshal your troops now, city of troops, for a siege is laid against us. They will strike Israel’s ruler on the cheek with a rod.
2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”…
… 10 “In that day,” declares the LORD, “I will destroy your horses from among you and demolish your chariots.
11 I will destroy the cities of your land and tear down all your strongholds.
12 I will destroy your witchcraft and you will no longer cast spells. 13 I will destroy your idols and your sacred stones from among you; you will no longer bow down to the work of your hands. 14 I will uproot from among you your Asherah poles when I demolish your cities. 15 I will take vengeance in anger and wrath on the nations that have not obeyed me.”
The prophet Micah put his pen to papyrus and wrote about this little town of Bethlehem. In just a few brief words, Micah tells the story of a very special town. Though his words may be brief, they contain a wealth of spiritual truth.
The Story of Bethlehem is a special story that needs to be told and retold. Especially in these trying times in which we live. We are living in a day when the real story of the birth of Jesus is lost amid the trees, the decorations, the shopping, and the controversy about appropriate “holiday greetings”. And, yes, I know there are still 74 shopping days till Christmas – for Micah there was still 700 years before Christmas!
And The story of Christmas is also a story of a little town, a town of Bethlehem.
And the Story of Bethlehem is the Story of a Place. When Micah writes of Bethlehem, he writes about a little town that is destined to produce great things.
While Bethlehem may have been a tiny rural village in the country of Israel, it had a colorful past and a brilliant future.
When we think of Bethlehem, we often only remember that it was the birthplace of Jesus, our Lord. But, within the history of this little town, there is a wealth of spiritual truth.
The town of Bethlehem is only five miles south of the great capital city of Jerusalem.
Bethlehem is first mentioned outside of the Scriptures in a historical letter from one of the kings of Palestine to an Egyptian Pharaoh in 1250 BC (that is only 25 years after Moses died!). This would have been during the time of the Judges, shortly after Joshua fit the battle of Jericho and moved the Israelite people into the Promised Land. Bethlehem was already in existence before Israel became a nation.
The name “Bethlehem” means “House of Bread”. Micah also calls it by another name “Ephrathah”. Which is an older name for the city, and means “Place of Fruitfulness”. Bethlehem, the Place of Fruitfulness, and the House of Bread.
How fitting that Jesus should be born in Bethlehem! For He is the true bread – “The Bread of Life” that takes away the sin of the world. And His blood fills the cup of the new covenant, the cup of redemption, the fruit of the vine.
Bethlehem is first mentioned in Scripture in Genesis, the first book of the Bible (Gen. 35:16-20). When Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, and his family are journeying home to Canaan (about 400 years before Moses), Rachel goes into labor and gives birth to a son; but Rachel dies in childbirth, and as she is dying, she calls her son’s name “Benoni”, which means “Son of my sorrow”. And Jacob’s wife Rachel was buried just outside of Bethlehem. Jacob changed his son’s name from Benoni to “Benjamin”, which means the “Son of my strong right hand”.
So Bethlehem is initially associated with sorrow and death, but was transformed prophetically into a place that seats the son of my right hand.
Jesus, too, can take a place associated with grief and suffering and transform it into a place of strength and glory.
Jesus was called by the Prophet Isaiah “a Man of Sorrows” (Isa. 53:1-3). The One Who created the universe had nowhere to lay His head (Matt. 8:20). The One Who left Heaven to come and die was rejected by the those He came to reach (John 1:11). He knew pain; He knew sorrow; and in the end, He knew death – on the cross (Isa. 53:4-6; and all four Gospels).
Jesus is our “Benoni”! He is the “Son of My Sorrow”! But he is also the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, The Son of God’s Right Hand.
The beautiful story of Ruth also transpired in the town of Bethlehem. It was in Bethlehem that Ruth found redemption from her pain and from her past. She found grace, she found mercy, love, and acceptance. She found restoration, hope, family and a future – all in that place called Bethlehem.
Bethlehem is the birth place of David, the shepherd-boy who became the greatest King Israel has ever known. It was a drink from the well in Bethlehem that refreshed David’s soul during a day of battle (II Sam. 23:14-16).
And, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a spiritual well was given to us all. Everyone who drinks from this well, from this living water, will find that they will thirst no more; their thirst is quenched for all eternity (John 6:35; John 7:37-38).
Bethlehem was the focus of an amazing prophecy by the prophet Micah. And that prophecy is the focus of our text today.
Bethlehem witnessed the most amazing miracle the world has ever seen. Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, God in flesh came into the world and was born in Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-20). Bethlehem was where the wise men found the Christ Child and offered Him not only their gifts but their worship (Matt. 2:1-12), for He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
Yes, Bethlehem is a story of a place. But, it is also a story of a promise. The words from the Old Testament proclaim “From you (Bethlehem) shall come forth for me …. one who is to rule Israel”! These words tell us that God has a glorious plan for humanity. And this little town of Bethlehem is a part of His plan.
When mankind turned from God in Eden, God gave humanity the first glimpse of this promised plan. He told Adam and Eve that a Redeemer would be born (Gen. 3:15). And as the years went by, more and more of God’s plan was revealed. When God saved His people from their bondage in Egypt by the blood of a Lamb (Ex. 12), He revealed a little more of His plan.
When He gave them Manna in the wilderness and brought water from the rock, He revealed a little more of His plan.
When He gave Israel the Law and the sacrificial ceremonies, He was revealing more of His plan.
Every aspect of the Tabernacle, the priesthood and the sacrifices revealed more and more of God’s plan.
Through the mouths of the prophets God gave insight into His plan. When Isaiah wrote about a virgin birth (Isa. 7:14), he was writing about this promised plan. Then the prophet Micah revealed the birth place of the Messiah – He shared where the King would be born – He proclaimed that the One Who would fulfill the promise would come from the little town of Bethlehem.
This glorious plan involved God becoming a human being, one of us. It involved Him going to the cross to die for the sins of the world.
His plan called for our Lord’s resurrection and for his Ascension. And it involves Him coming again — Returning in glory to rule and to reign on this earth. The Micah 5:2 promise is fulfilled in JESUS. But Micah 5:10-15 won’t be fulfilled until Jesus RETURNS!
It is a plan designed with you and me in mind! The prophet Micah closes this prophecy with these words concerning the Christ: “Whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.” These words reveal the truth that this One Who would be born in Bethlehem (in 700 more years) was no ordinary Man.
The Prophet Micah tells us that while He may be coming out of Bethlehem, He is eternal! He may be born in Bethlehem, but His beginning is not there. He is Eternal. Jesus is eternal and He is in our midst this very day.
For where two or three are gathered together in His name, Jesus is in their midst. Jesus is in our midst – He is with us this day. Do you feel Him? Can you tell He is here?
The story of Bethlehem is a story of a miracle. The miracle of Bethlehem is that God became man. He did not stop being God! He merely “added” humanity to His deity. Theologians call this “The Hypostatic Union”. Miraculously, God placed Himself within Mary’s womb. Some nine months later Mary gave birth to a Son. And when she looked into the face of her little boy, she was looking into the face of God. God in human flesh!
We cannot fully comprehend the incarnation of our Jesus. He was Fully God, yet, He was fully human. He was as much God as if He had never been a man. And, He was as much man as if He had never been God! Yet he was both!
Jesus experienced humanity in its fullness — He suffered, He was hungry, thirsty, He knew loneliness, He knew grief, He grew weary, slept, wept, was rejected, and He died. Yet, while He was absolutely human, He lived His entire life sinless!
Jesus came to this earth because He loves you and He gave His life as a ransom for you. He came to offer you salvation.
The very end of this chapter says something about God taking “vengeance in anger and wrath”. While we worship this God who became human, who lived and suffered and died, for you and me – the reason this was necessary is because He is also a God of justice. You know how the meaning of words sometimes change over time – in Sunday School last week Madeline mentioned how the word “gay” has changed – no longer meaning anything like it used to.
That’s what happened to “vengeance” here. “Vengeance” really means JUSTICE. What Micah is really saying is that God will act justly with people who reject Him and His ways – but He offers Grace through the miracle of Bethlehem.
O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord …Emmanuel!
Amen and Amen!
Resources: (My biggest thanks to J. Jeffrey Smead for his Advent message last year)
Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012; P. 487.
Smead, J. Jeffrey; “O’ Little Town of Bethlehem”; Epiphany Anglican Fellowship; Ligonier, PA; December 2013.